## Tuesday, July 24, 2012

### Algebra

We’re taught algebra in high school because we’re told that we will need it for college. But why are we taught it in college if we’re not going into a field that requires higher maths? I accept that we “solve for x” every day in our lives. If it takes me 30 minutes to get ready, 15 minutes to drive to work, and 5 minutes to walk from the garage, if I need to be there at 7:30, what time do I need to get up (x). Somehow that must relate to the Pythagorean theorem or the graphing of trinomial inequalities but I haven’t quite figured out how.
I was only required to take Algebra 1 in high school. I still remember the word problem, “Bob and Tom were working together mowing a lawn. If it took Bob 2 hours to mow the entire lawn and Tom 1.5 hours, how long would it take them to mow the lawn together?” My answer- 1 hour because Tom would go get a coke while lazy-ass Bob finished his half. Okay, I didn’t actually have the guts to answer that way, but it is what I was thinking. I figured out how many problems on my final I had to get right in order to pass and only did that many of the problems. Guess I had learned something, but it was not that I needed algebra in my life.
Algebra. Sigh.  I’ve always said that if I never finished my college degree that it would be algebra that stopped me. I hate doing something that makes no sense to me. There is the question that everyone asks, “When will I ever use algebra in everyday life?”
“A typical response from a mathematics professor was: “Algebra is the science of variables. It enables us to deal with large bodies of data by identifying variables and by imposing or finding structures within the data.”

A very typical math instructor response. It will take me a few days to even figure out what he’s trying to say. In the meantime, my homework still needs to get done!

One response, from a high school math teacher, broke the mold – and was, impressively sticky. He said; “Never. You will never use this. People don’t lift weights so that they will be prepared should one day someone knock them over on the street and lay a barbell across their chest. You lift weights so that you can knock over a defensive lineman, or carry your groceries, or lift your grand-children without being sore the next day.

You do math exercises so that you can improve your ability to think logically, so that you can be a better lawyer, doctor, architect, prison warden, or parent. Math is mental weight training. It is a means to an end (for most people), not an end in itself.”
Okay, I can go with that. My personal belief is that algebra trains people to be good politicians. If you rewrite it enough times, plug it into enough different formulas, even using imaginary numbers, you can come up with a “right” answer that people find acceptable.